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Northern California farmers urge officials to drop drought regulations


sm etna summit.jpg < For scale, a person stands next to a pile of snow at Etna Summit on April 1. The snowpack will feed into the Scott Valley as it melts.

Farmers and ranchers in the rural Scott Valley of Northern California have asked water officials to rescind drought regulations in light of the state’s recent heavy snowfall.

At a State Water Resources Control Board public meeting on April 4, farmers in the valley urged officials to drop an emergency drought regulation that the board put in place last year, saying it is no longer necessary after this winter’s large snowpack.

“We believe that we have been regulated in an unprecedented and unfair manner, and now that we’ve had a very decent winter, that unfair treatment is looking more and more like abuse,” Theodora Johnson, a local farmer and spokeswoman for the Scott Valley Water Alliance, told board officials at the meeting.

The Scott River Watershed is not served by reservoirs or federal and state water projects. Instead, farmers rely on groundwater accessed through wells and surface water from the Scott River, a tributary of the Klamath River.

Last summer, the State Water Resources Control Board issued emergency drought regulations for the Scott River that would halt all irrigation if the river dipped below new minimum levels. The regulation’s purpose was to protect coho salmon.

In the summer, under the new regulations, officials curtailed farmers’ water use.

On Dec. 27, the board temporarily suspended all curtailments in the Scott River Watershed due to snow and rainfall.

The board, however, left its emergency regulations in place, meaning farmers in the Scott Valley still operate under an emergency drought framework.

“The emergency regulations last for one year (through July 29). While curtailments have been suspended, keeping the emergency regulations in place allows the board to re-issue curtailments during that time period if needed…,” said Ailene Voisin, spokeswoman for the water board.

For example, she said, if the snowpack does not adequately replenish the Klamath River Basin, the board may need to re-issue curtailments. Keeping the emergency drought regulations in place, said Voisin, gives the board the legal authority to curtail farmers’ water supplies if necessary.

After the emergency regulation expires, the board can decide whether to readopt it.

Farmers in the valley disagree with the board’s decision to keep the emergency regulation in place, considering the wet winter.

“Our snowpack surveys so far are reading over 150%, yet we are still being required to reduce our groundwater use for the upcoming irrigation season by 30% to avoid 100% curtailment,” said Johnson, the farmer with the Scott Valley Water Alliance.

In response, officials say snowpack levels in Northern California are not as dramatic as those in Southern California, and therefore drought could still be a problem for the northern region this year.

“Southern California is experiencing historic snowpack levels, but while the snowpack is excellent in NorCal, the levels are not historic,” said Voisin, of the water board.

Farmers remain frustrated with the board’s decisions.

“Water board, you are in a position of power. Please choose your decision so that it reflects giving water to everyone,” Lauren Sweezy, a hay farmer in the Scott Valley, said to officials at the public meeting in April.



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